In a move to protect contract security for Australian footballers, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) has filed legal action on behalf of Robbie Fowler against Football Federation Australia (FFA) and North Queensland Fury.
The legal action was taken after the FFA and the Fury unilaterally terminated 7 Fury players’ contracts following the corporate restructure of the club earlier this year. The stance taken by the FFA and the Fury has left 5 players unemployed in professional football despite being contracted to the Fury for the 2010/2011 playing season, 3 of whom are recovering from long-term injuries.
Over the past 2 months, the PFA negotiated settlements for 6 out of the 7 players, but were unable to reach an agreement for Fowler.
PFA Chief Executive Brendan Schwab said the PFA had no alternative but to take legal action after the FFA, which is running the Fury, terminated Fowler’s contract without just cause, then never contacted him with a settlement offer.
“The case is of fundamental importance to all A-League players, as it goes to the heart of the security of a player contract in the A-League,” Schwab said. “To Robbie’s credit, he could have gone and played in just about any country around the world and forgotten about the Fury situation, but he is committed to developing the Australian game and ensuring contract security for Australian players”.
On 31 March 2010, North Queensland Football Club Pty Ltd was replaced by North Queensland Fury Football Club Pty Ltd.  The latter entity is wholly owned by FFA and has 2 Directors: FFA CEO Ben Buckley and FFA lawyer Jo Setright. However, unlike previous corporate restructures at Adelaide United and Perth Glory, and despite FFA officials promising players in February that all player contracts would be assigned if the Fury survived, FFA did not assign the player contracts to the new entity.
“Unfortunately, despite the PFA stressing that the governing body should back the players who pioneered the A-League’s expansion efforts in North Queensland, FFA has refused to accept that it has any obligations to the contracted Fury players.  This is on the technical ground that the players’ contracts are with the legal entity that played as the Fury in the A-League in 2009/10, not the entity that will play as them in 2010/11,” said Schwab.
The PFA has requested a hearing of the National Dispute Resolution Chamber (NDRC) in accordance with the A-League Collective Bargaining Agreement.  It will ask the NDRC to apply the precedent of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, which focuses on the football club, and not the strict legal entity.
“This technical argument has been rejected quite regularly in the football world, and for good reasons.  For example, Adelaide United Soccer Club Pty Ltd qualified for the Asian Champions League, but Adelaide United Football Club Pty Ltd played in it a season later.
“We are confident of securing an important legal victory which will enhance the security of A-League player contracts,” Schwab concluded.
The PFA have recently held a series of meetings with players regarding the situation at the Fury including with the Socceroos, several A-League teams and the PFA Executive and Delegate Committees during a recent Special General Meeting in Melbourne.
“The players in the A-League feel very strongly that all player contracts must be protected whenever an A-League club is restructured and they are 100% behind the PFA ensuring contract security for Australian players,” Fowler said. “Players make career and lifestyle changing decisions in reliance on the contracts they have signed.  Obviously, the game’s extensive efforts to attract the highest calibre of players into the competition are only as strong as the security of the contracts they sign,” Fowler added.
“This case is not about the compensation, it is about ensuring contract security for all players in the A-League and more specifically for the players who have suffered from the way in which the FFA handled the player contracts. Players like James Robinson, Scott Wilson and Jacob Timpano whose careers have been cut short after being terminated while recovering from long terms injuries. Players like Paul Henderson and Chris Tadrosse who moved their families to Townsville in good faith that their contracts were secure. Players like Shane Stefanutto who sacrificed a European career in order to develop the A-League and more specifically football in North Queensland,” Fowler added.
“The PFA have worked very closely with me and the other Fury players and I have every bit of confidence that in the end they will right this wrong,” Fowler added.
“If the A-League is seeking to develop into a competitive league on the world stage, then it needs to get the fundamentals correct and contract security for any professional player is a fundamental principle,” Fowler concluded.
Fowler will be seeking compensation for damages and more importantly for him and other Australian players, a declaration of his rights as a matter of principle.